On Wednesday, along with some of my Americans United colleagues, I attended a LGBTQ summit hosted by Atlantic magazine’s Atlantic Live. The summit’s title, “Unfinished Business,” betrayed the organizers’ expectations of who would be our next president. What could have been a reflection on progress was instead a reminder of how much is now at stake and how much remains to be done.
Despite the somber atmosphere, panels of activists, organizers and thought leaders discussed how they are committed to moving forward and fighting for LGBTQ rights. The Atlantic did a fantastic job organizing an entire day’s worth of insightful panels addressing many of the most pressing issues. A common theme discussed through the day was that LGBTQ issues are never in a vacuum, but always tied to race, class, religion and a complex array of other factors.
At AU, we couldn’t agree more. Discrimination against the LGBTQ community often occurs under the guise of religious freedom, for example. And we regularly explain to courts and legislators around the country that religious freedom does not give one the license to harm others. Indeed, our Protect Thy Neighbor campaign is dedicated to carrying out this mission.
Given our deep commitment to this issue, the summit panel titled “Religious Liberty” was disappointing. It featured only one panelist: Kristina Arriaga, the executive director of the Becket Fund. In case you don’t know the Becket Fund, it’s a legal group that represented Hobby Lobby in its successful bid to refuse its employees insurance coverage for contraception they are legally entitled to because Hobby Lobby’s owners claimed it was against their religion.
During her talk, Arriaga used friendly language and spurious statistics to try and put a sympathetic face on her flawed view of religious liberty. But her positions were clear. She argued that religious liberty allows businesses to deny service to same-sex couples, even when state law prohibits that discrimination. She also argued that doctors can refuse trans-related healthcare to trans people.
Agenda from the summit.
Real religious liberty, though, is quite different from what Arriaga depicted. Freedom of religion is a fundamental right, but no one has the right to use that as a weapon against others. Standing with the LGBTQ community is not anathema to religious liberty – the religious liberty enshrined in our Constitution allows you freedom of conscience and exercise, not the license to steamroll the rights of others under the guise of religion.
That’s why it was disappointing that the Atlantic took the Becket Fund’s definition of religious liberty at face value. Many religious denominations and advocates for religious freedom, like Americans United, vigorously defend against the Becket Fund’s understanding of religious liberty. By presenting the view of only the Becket Fund, the Atlantic bought into a false, but all-too-common dichotomy – that religious liberty and LGBTQ rights are fundamentally at odds. They aren’t. Real religious freedom ensures that religion is no excuse to harm others. Moreover, religion and faith are central to the lives of many LGBTQ people, and many religious traditions embrace LGBTQ equality.
Much of the progress that the LGBTQ movement has made will be threatened during the next four years. Many of the arguments for rolling back the progress will be rooted in the false ideas of religious liberty that seek to allow discrimination so long as the reason for the discrimination has any connection to religion.
Don’t buy it. Americans United will stand with you. We will fight to protect everyone’s right to believe as they see fit and act on their beliefs. But we will continue to refute any attempt to distort the fundamental value of religious freedom as license to discriminate.
We hope that you’ll join us in this fight. Sign up for our email list, and learn how you can help protect the fundamental rights of all Americans.